Today's economy makes it more important than ever for people to be financially aware.
The Catholic small group study, 7 Steps to Becoming Financially Free, produced in conjunction with Our Sunday Visitor, combines the practical with the spiritual to help people reach this goal.
Susan Stith, director of the Family Life Office of the Altoona-Johnstown Catholic Diocese, said there are two series' of the program scheduled; one in the Family Life office in Lilly Thursday evenings from 7 to 9 p.m. Feb. 18, March 4 to 25 and April 8 and 15, and another at the Holy Name Parish in Ebensburg Thursdays from 7 to 9 p.m. Feb. 25, March 18 and 25 and April 8 to 29.
A general information session for people wanting to learn more about the program will be held at the Family Life Office in Lilly from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. Feb. 16. The price for both locations is $35 per person or $50 per couple.
Stith said the 7 Steps to Becoming Financially Free series by author and financier Phil Lenahan is a Catholic program, but everyone is invited to attend.
"There is so much stress around finances, especially in families," Stith said. "Whether making enough, or living on the edge, worrying stresses people. This program helps people plan ahead and spend money according to their values."
Stith explained the spiritual component to the program.
"The group looks at how all our gifts and talents are from God," she said. "It gives us a sense of stewardship, as in how do we use these gifts to live out our Christian faith?"
Stith encourages couples, engaged and married, to attend the meetings. She also stressed that no personal information is shared, so attendees do not need to fear being made uncomfortable.
Chris Ringkamp, Development Director for the Altoona-Johnstown Catholic Diocese, strongly supports the program. He said it helps people learn to use their time, talents and treasure to the best of their abilities.
"It's the only small group faith study that I have found that promotes stewardship of treasure from a Catholic perspective," he said. "It helps people look at personal finances through the lens of our faith."
Ringkamp said the program is being promoted to all parishes in the diocese.
"We're really trying to encourage parishioners to do this as a parish ministry," he said.
Colleen Spicher of Ebensburg co-facilitated the program last year with the Rev. David Rizzo at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Altoona, and plans to facilitate this year's program at the Holy Name Parish. She said the program teaches people to track expenses, such as building a balance sheet of how much money they have going out and coming in.
"People say it's the first time they've done most of these things," Spicher said.
The seven steps of the program involve being a steward of providence, assessing where you are and developing a plan, emergency savings, eliminating debt, getting a rainy day fund, reviewing insurance and estate planning needs and saving and investing with a purpose.
"We watch a 10-minute clip of a DVD each week, then we build on the session," Spicher said. "You have a book, workbook, and each week you have an assignment."
The group spends time in the Scriptures, goes through questions and answers, reviews homework assignments and closes with prayer. There is also coffee and a light snack, Spicher said.
Spicher said the group she co-facilitated last year was small, but satisfying.
"It was amazing, the connection people made to one another," she said. "There was a camaraderie that came from meeting every week and discussing such a sensitive topic."
Spicher said going through the group one time will not totally resolve all financial problems, but it provides a springboard for eventual success.
"It gets you excited as you're going through it to be able to achieve some of the steps," she said. "If you can make one improvement to start with, it's an awesome feeling."
Interested people should register through the Family Life Office at 886-5551 or Holy Name in Ebensburg at 472-7244.
The sign-up deadline for the Lilly series is Feb. 16, and Feb. 18 for the Ebensburg series.